This week's essay from the Mission of God Study Bible focuses on the centrality of Christ in regard to the mission of God. It may seem a bit obvious, but it is an important concept nonetheless.
Philip Nation (who did the vast majority of the work on the whole study Bible) authored this essay. We have worked on several writing projects over the years, served on church leadership teams together, and even worked together at LifeWay Research until recently. Philip now serves as director of adult publishing for LifeWay.
I'm giving away a copy of this Bible each week to commenters, so be sure to leave a comment below to be entered in the giveaway. You can also order your copy of the Mission of God Study Bible here.
By Philip Nation
The person and work of Jesus is essential to our exploration of the mission of God. In fact, without Jesus, the exploration would be fruitless as He is the central figure of the redemptive work of God. When we discuss the gospel and God's mission, it is tempting to focus solely on theological statements and activities done by the church. However, at the core of the gospel is not an idea but a person--Christ. At the core of God's mission is not an action by humans but the work accomplished by God the Son through His incarnation. Christ is the center of God's mission and we are the beneficiaries of who He is and what He has done.
The Incarnation of Jesus
In Colossians 1:15-20, we are brought face-to-face with the fact that Jesus is God in the flesh. The man born in Bethlehem and reared in Nazareth is "the image of the invisible God" (v.15) and had the fullness of God dwelling in Him (v.19). The incarnation is a nearly impossible idea to comprehend. The fact that the eternal God chose to live in a human body is amazing and mind- boggling. Yet, for God's mission to be accomplished, this was the necessary action.
The incarnation is both merciful and necessary. It is merciful in that through God's arrival on Earth in human form, He will take up the sacrificial work that is impossible for everyone else. For thousands of years, blood had been spilt upon the altars of the Temple in Jerusalem and the tabernacles of worship used by the Hebrew people. They had placed their faith in the Lord that He would accept them and deliver a Messiah to set all things right between God and man.
In the incarnation, God Himself takes up the work. It is a task that no mere mortal can accomplish. Thus, God humbles Himself and condescends to our level of existence. He was born as we are, lived as we do, experienced life in the same manner as us all yet without sin. He was born as a man but He never--not once--succumbs to temptation. He is a man but has the very nature of God.
Uniquely Capable of Reconciliation
It is only through the work of Christ that people and creation can be reconciled to God. There are a number of reasons for His solitary ability to accomplish this task. As 1:16 states, He is the One who created all things and holds all things together. As the only One with authority over the created order, God is the only One capable of redeeming us since we have fallen into sin. Though we might be puzzled by all of this power residing in this one Man, it is vital to remember that Jesus is not whom we often make Him out to be. Though He taught, He is more than a great teacher. Though He performed miracles, He was not just a magical figure. Though He lived perfectly, He was not just an ethics professor. Jesus the Messiah was the Creator God in flesh and was the only One capable of reconciling creation to Himself.
Also, Christ is stated to be the "firstborn over all creation" (1:15). The phrase means that Jesus, as Messiah, ranks as preeminent over all other people. By virtue of His divine nature, He is the greatest of all who have been born among humanity. Being in very nature God, Christ has the unique character to reconcile us to God. "Firstborn" is also associated with His resurrection in verse 18, describing Him as "the firstborn from the dead." He is supreme not only in His place among the living but also in His place among those who have died. Jesus is solitary in His ability to defeat death and thus bring peace to those who trust him.
Making Peace Through the Cross
The life of Jesus is without doubt the most important period of time in history. As He is central to the mission of God, His life is central to our existence. However, we can hone in even further to say that it is the death and resurrection of Christ that are the key events within the existence of our created order. Paul wrote in 1:20 that Jesus makes peace between Himself and people "through the blood of His cross."
The crucifixion and resurrection event in the life of Jesus is central to the mission of God because it is through this unique work that God reconciles us to Himself. He is the only person born before, during, or after His time on earth that can accomplish the work done through the cross. Throughout the passage, it is important to note how the personal pronouns are used in reference to Jesus. From the act of creation to the work of making peace between God and man, it is only possible through Jesus because He is the Messiah, fully God and fully man.
Head of the Church
The passage points to one other central role held by Christ: "head of the body, the church" (v.18). As we begin to act upon the mission that has been entrusted to us, we do so with the understanding that it is an inherited mission. We are given the work of proclaiming reconciliation that was accomplished by someone else, namely Jesus. He has completed the work and we now bear witness to that work under His direction.
As members of the church, we should be encouraged that He has not left us to our own devices. Rather, Jesus remains engaged with the reconciling work still to take place between God and individuals who hear the gospel. He fits believers together as members of the church, indwelt by His Spirit, to proclaim His salvation and serve so that others might see a portrait of His grace in our lives. The mission is accomplished because Jesus is uniquely the Savior who has died in our place and empowers His church.